Last year saw the inaugural We've Only Just Begun festival take place at one of Dublin's most iconic live venues, Whelan's.
Over three nights, a host of exciting up-and-coming bands plied their wares for audiences at the showcase-style event, which was roundly praised for giving a platform to new Irish acts.
Now, it's returning for a second year in August, with either female or female-led bands leading the charge once again.
We caught up with festival founder Shauna Watson to talk about what to expect from this year's event.
Hi Shauna! Who are you, and what do you do?
I've been working in the music industry for 5 years now. I started after I graduated from Law, swiftly ditching that career for one in the music business! I work full time in Rubyworks, an indie record label in Dublin with artists like Hozier, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Otherkin, Hudson Taylor and Wyvern Lingo on the roster. I also work at The Ruby Sessions doing marketing, production and booking.
Where and when did the idea for 'We've Only Just Begun' first take root?
Last February I set up the Dublin chapter of the global organisation She Said So which is a network of women who work in the music industry. That idea came about when I was looking around at my colleagues in the music industry in Ireland and asking why there were so few women working both at my level and an executive level. I wanted She Said So to focus on delivering workshops and teaching practical skills that would give women the confidence to progress their careers in the music industry.
From the work I did with She Said So, Dave Allen (Booker and Venue Manager of Whelan's) asked me if I would be up for running a female fronted festival and it all progressed from there!
What's the general ethos behind it?
When we first discussed the concept for We've Only Just Begun, I was adamant that I didn't want it to be called a "Women's Festival" or have any reference to women in the name, the artwork or promotional materials. I wanted to put together a class line-up so that people would attend the festival because of the strength of the line-up as a priority, rather than the gender of the musicians.
I also wanted our festival to highlight the undeniably talented female fronted musicians and bands readily accessible in Ireland, making it inexcusable for festival bookers and promoters to continue to have imbalanced line-ups.
It began in 2018 – how did the first year go? Was there a big turn-out?
For the first year of the festival it was incredible - both venues were full the whole weekend and there was something special about the atmosphere each night. It's not like any other gig and it's not like any other festival. The crowd were amazing and the acts said they were taken back by the whole experience.
Why do you think showcase festivals like this are a good idea for punters?
This year we are having the upstairs venue completely free entry, so that’s a good idea for punters in itself! Some of the artists playing there over the weekend will be playing their first ever gig and others have been playing shows for years. It's really a mix of new artists and ones that are more established.
The main room will be ticketed and we have acts there that have been playing their own sold out headline shows for years. Either way, for punters bopping between both venues it's a really great opportunity for them to see the incredible talent in our country.
The line-up for 2019 is excellent – Wyvern Lingo and Soda Blonde are two big names that many people will know. Can you talk a little about why you chose to book those acts?
Wyvern Lingo (Friday) are one of the best live bands in the country right now. They have a huge fan base, particularly among fellow musicians - they're highly respected in the industry. Not to mention a No.2 Debut album under their belt. Soda Blonde (Sunday) are veterans in the music industry but yet a relatively new band. They're the band that everyone is clambering over themselves to see live right now and they're absolutely worth the hype. And the Saturday night headliners Pillow Queens are the band that everyone is talking about at the moment, racking up international tours and festivals and are on track to completely sky rocket.
For all three headlining acts I can honestly say that not only are they a representation of how strong the music industry in Ireland is, but they're all completely down to earth and genuine and I think that's so important for younger female musicians or aspiring musicians to see. There's a saying "If she can't see it, she can't be it" and I think that's extremely true of the music industry. These women are role models for the next generation of artists and I'm so proud that they're leading our festival this year.
Do you think that the Irish music scene is as difficult to navigate for female artists as the global music scene is? Or is it getting better?
I can’t say for certain what it’s like globally but I think in Ireland it's difficult to navigate at times, both for female musicians and for women working behind the scenes on the business side of things. It can be an intimidating culture, mostly male dominated with a lot of big personalities. I’ve also had a lot of men be quite disrespectful to me when they see a young woman doing sound or production, they assume I don’t know anything about the technical side of things. That’s frustrating.
However, I’ve been lucky to work with some really supportive male colleagues who I’m constantly learning from and can always turn to for guidance.
Also if you look at both the singles and radio charts in Ireland, they're dominated by male artists. Last year there was not one female act in the top 30 (30!!) most played Irish songs on the radio.
That's something that completely baffles me. The amount of Irish female artists that are selling out shows and filling festival tents but yet they're not being played on the radio or breaking into the singles charts - it doesn't correlate.
I think it is getting better. For example, 2FM are making a more concerted effort to have a gender balanced playlist. There's also more pressure on festival bookers to be aware of the imbalance on line-ups in the past and make changes to reduce that. It's going to be a slow process but it's a fight that has to be fought.
Who are your top three picks, personally?
It's a really fun job booking your own festival because selfishly I've just put together a line-up of acts I'm a fan of and I want to see so honestly I think they're all brilliant! But I think that the most exciting up and coming acts for me would be Elkin, Cherym, April and ROE. That's 4, but what are ya gonna do.
Will WOJB remain a female-focused festival going forward?
It will remain female focused until all festival line-ups are gender balanced.
Finally, can you explain in one sentence why people should go to WOJB?
You can see 26 deadly established and up and coming bands and acts across the whole weekend for 25 quid. That's a pretty good deal to me!
We've Only Just Begun takes place at Whelan's from August 9th - 11th. See here for tickets.